How to Effectively Deal with Workplace Threats or Violent Behavior

In the first of this two-part series, we explained the signs of a potential threatening or violent situation. Now, learn how to address these warning signs and next steps to take.

Last month, we discussed 36 possible warning signs of workplace violence. While none of the behaviors I wrote about are absolutes or mean the person exhibiting them will become violent, you should be aware of the signs. While every person and every situation is different, you need to be able to effectively and safely handle any people or situations that may need attention.

All threats or changes in personality or behavior must be taken seriously. If you notice any threatening behaviors, you should alert appropriate personnel and human resources, if your business has an HR department. Always treat the person with respect when talking with them. The goal is to avoid any escalation.

Employers have a responsibility to protect employees from outside threats as well as inside ones. No matter the size of your business, you should always:

  • Have a clear, written policy that communicates zero tolerance toward workplace violence in any form;
  • determine in advance what discipline will be taken against employees who threaten or take violent action in the workplace, and follow through if such threats arise;
  • create a management team trained to recognize the warning signs of potential violence;
  • alert your employees about what constitutes workplace violence, including destruction of property and implied threats of violence, and encourage them to report these incidents immediately;
  • have a reporting system (e.g., an anonymous hotline) to let management know about suspicious or threatening behaviors; and
  • learn to recognize employee behaviors that contribute to workplace violence, such as emotional disturbance and substance abuse.

How to address a potential threat

Workplace violence training can be helpful. There are firms, such as mine, that offer workplace violence training for managers and employees. Learning the warning signs and how to properly and effectively deal with them can mean the difference between a violent and a non-violent outcome.

Here are four tips for dealing with threatening or violent behavior.

Tip No. 1: Assess the threat. If you find yourself in a threatening situation, try to remain calm. Do not confront the person or try to be a hero. Does the employee have a history of erratic behavior? What was the tone of the threat? How specific was it? An employer should weigh all facts in order to assess the seriousness of the threat. If time permits, consider involving a forensic psychologist or an outside investigator.

Tip No. 2: Implement security measures. If a credible threat is identified, take steps to promptly implement security measures. These may vary depending on the circumstances, including preexisting security in the workplace, the nature and seriousness of the threat, and the employee's behavioral history.

Some immediate steps you can take include changing access codes, changing or adding locks, hiring outside security, contacting law enforcement, altering other employees, lockdowns, etc.

Tip No. 3: Remain positive and respectful. Your workplace environment and culture should be positive. Treat all employees with courtesy and respect. If you must terminate an employee, do so with respect, allowing them their dignity. You may want to offer outplacement services.

Tip No. 4: Help protect confidentiality. Provide a confidential way for employees to complain or to report any unusual or threatening behaviors.

If you do find yourself in a violent or threatening situation, try to signal to someone to call the authorities. Keep talking to the person and try to keep them calm. Look them in the eye and treat them with respect.

If you are the employee's supervisor, consider various levels of discipline depending on the severity of the threat. If the threat involved a weapon, the employee needs to be immediately removed, and perhaps fired and prosecuted. However, a less severe threat may warrant different action. For example, a trivial or minor statement not intended as a threat by one employee, but perceived as one by another employee, might be resolved by separating the two employees involved for a period of time. If you decide to terminate the employee but feel threatened, you can hire an outside firm to conduct an “armed firing” where they will come in and make sure the employee does not cause any problems while they are removed from the premises.

Following up

Following a threatening or violent incident, you should offer counseling services to anyone involved. People may be traumatized and they will experience a range of emotions, so mental health resources are important. Your insurance company may be able to recommend psychiatric resources to help cope with trauma. Depending on your policy, they may pay for treatment.

There are organizations that may be able to help, such as:

Being prepared and informed can go a very long way in preventing a workplace violent situation or lessening the impact of an actual threat.

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security Expert Timothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at

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  • Next up: How to Find and Retain Rock Star Employees
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  • How to Find and Retain Rock Star Employees

    Solving workforce and talent issues is a puzzle a lot of entrepreneurs are trying to put together these days. How do I compete for rock star employees? And once I’ve found them, how do I keep them? These answers are definitely not easy to come by, which is why I was looking forward last week to sitting in on a session featuring speakers from COSE’s Strategic Planning Course who were prepared to tackle this issue head on.

    Solving workforce and talent issues is a puzzle a lot of entrepreneurs are trying to put together these days. How do I compete for rock star employees? And once I’ve found them, how do I keep them? These answers are definitely not easy to come by, which is why I was looking forward last week to sitting in on a session featuring speakers from COSE’s Strategic Planning Course who were prepared to tackle this issue head on. 

    It was a lively discussion and as it unfolded, I was able to pick out three key takeaways from the session that might be of some help in guiding your own workforce strategy.

    1. Recruiting

    How do you find those A-plus candidates for your business? Think about where your ideal candidate spends her or his time. For instance, it might make sense to browse LinkedIn groups for your particular industry to find potential candidates. Another option? Reach out to local universities or trade associations and put the word out that you’re looking for talent. Lastly, recruiting firms could be an option, but before you engage with one of these firms, think about what you need. Do you want the recruiting firm to handle everything from A to Z, or do you need the firm to simply provide you with a pipeline of candidates, and then let you filter out the prospects yourself?

    2. Interviewing

    OK, so you’ve got a solid list of prospects and now it’s time to start the interview process. Here are a few tips to help improve the interview process that were mentioned:

    • Check the applicant’s ability to follow directions by asking them to phone in the day before the interview to confirm.
    • Potential questions to ask during the interview include: “What did you like/dislike about your last position” and “How would you describe your ideal job?”
    • Lengthen the in-person interview. The longer it goes, the better the chance is you’ll see the candidate’s true personality come out and you’ll be able to ascertain how good an internal fit they will be to your team.
    • Consider putting the candidate through a program to judge their personality profile.

    3. Retaining

    Retaining solid employees is just as important as plugging gaps with new hires. Communication and transparency were two common threads that wove their way through this part of the discussion. For example, spark discussions with current employees by asking things like: Where do you want your career to go? How can we help you get there? What things do you want to be working on? And along those same lines, ensure you’re providing the right amount of feedback and keep a continual focus on coaching employees to be the best they can be.

    Obviously, over the course of the 2-hour session there was a lot more ground that was covered than this. If you’re interested in learning more, consider looking into the COSE Strategic Planning Course, in which issues such as workforce development and acquisition are explored in depth. For more information, contact Adina Magda at or at 216-592-2379.

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  • Next up: How to Grow Your Business from 2 to 200 People
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  • How to Grow Your Business from 2 to 200 People

    To call Cleveland custom apparel maker University Tees’ beginnings humble might be a bit of an understatement. Launched by a couple of college students from their dorm room at Miami University, the company, which specializes in providing clothing for college markets, today employs 200 people.

    In advance of his workshop focusing on employee retention, development and branding at this year’s BizConCLE, Mind Your Business had an opportunity to sit down with Nate Stansberry of University Tees to find out about the roadmap the company followed to grow from two to 200 employees. Read on below for the seven lessons the company learned along the way.

    Lesson 1: Recruit your customers

    The company learned early on that establishing natural recruiting pipelines is one easy way to find employees. One of these naturally occurring, organic pathways exists with the customers who already are fans of your product and understand what you’re all about. Not only are they already familiar with your product, if they’re customers that means they’re probably fans of yours as well. And if they are fans of the company, that means they’re also likely to bring a positive attitude to their work and help you build a positive culture at your business as well as helping you stay authentic to other customers.

    Lesson 2: You can’t force culture

    Speaking of culture, Stansberry cautioned that this is something that can’t be forced. The people you bring on board must live and breathe your company’s mission. Again, having a native pipeline as described above will help the culture at your business create itself. “Having customers within your organization is vital to growth,” he says.

    Lesson 3: Engage employees for referrals

    You can continue to try to enhance your candidate pipeline by surveying existing employees for referrals (if you decide not to promote from within) when a position becomes available. “Your best people are going to bring in their best people,” Stansberry says.

    Lesson 4: Internships are important

    Internships are another good pipeline companies should consider for growth, he says. It’s also a great way of elevating people to other positions throughout the organization. This demonstrates that there are growth opportunities at your business, which is both a great employee recruitment and retention tool.

    Lesson 5: Find the right fit

    When thinking about advancing the company’s campus managers, it seemed like a natural fit for University Tees to integrate these workers into its B-to-B sales division. Turns out, though, that wasn’t the case because the jobs were too different. Take time to think about the unique talents the members of your staff have and what positions you have available internally to help them build on these strengths.

    Lesson 6: Perfect the interview process

    It’s important to have a consistent process in place when bringing in job candidates. Here’s the template in place at University Tees:

    • First, look in house for potential candidates before opening the door to referrals and a general external search.
    • During the initial interview, dig deeper into the job seeker’s experience and give that person a sense of the company culture and what you’re all about.
    • Next, have the hiring manager perform a “technical” interview that focuses on the job itself.
    • If possible, conduct a “shadowing” session where the candidate meets the team and sees how their role would interact with other roles at the company.
    • Perform a personality assessment, if desired.

    Lesson 7: The first three days are important

    Once the new hire is made, your job isn’t over yet. Give your new employee a tour of the facility. Ensure they’re all set up with access to servers, their desk is clean and their email is ready. Then, consider matching them up with an in-house mentor from preferably another department who checks in with the new hire to ensure everything is going smoothly.

    Learning about how you can perfect your hiring process and efficiently grow your company is just one of the topics that is going to be explored this year during BizConCLE. Click here to learn more and secure your spot today.

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  • Next up: Digital Roundtable: How to Hire Millennials
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  • Digital Roundtable: How to Hire Millennials

    One-third of the job market today is comprised of millennials, who have leapfrogged past Gen Xers to become the biggest force in today’s labor pool, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Sounds like a potential employee base you should get to know, right? But do you know what it takes to make your business attractive to these young, eager potential employees?

    One-third of the job market today is comprised of millennials, who have leapfrogged past Gen Xers to become the biggest force in today’s labor pool, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Sounds like a potential employee base you should get to know, right? But do you know what it takes to make your business attractive to these young, eager potential employees?

    We (digitally) sat down with four HR experts from our COSE Expert Network to find out what it takes to recruit this generation, how to make your business millennial employee friendly, and how to retain these employees once you have them on board. 

    Taking part in this digital roundtable are:

    • Tim Dimoff, SACS Consulting and Investigative Services Inc.
    • Julie Sumner, Monarch Endeavors LLC
    • Tameka L. Taylor, Compass Consulting Services LLC

    Q: For a business that wants to find millennial staff, does it make sense to turn to social channels?

    Dimoff: Yes, social channels to recruit millennials is very effective. They believe if you are utilizing “Their forms of communication” that it also exists in your company culture and work processes. Secondly, you also have a much greater number of millennials that you will make contact with and therefore have a bigger pool to choose from.

    Sumner: Yes, it makes sense to turn to social media channels because that is where millennials seem to spend most of their time. However, most employers stick to the more professional social media websites, such as LinkedIn. This is recommended as there is a great deal of information that can be garnered from a typical personal social media profile that could put an employer at risk for claims of discrimination. For example, a quick look at a Facebook profile will potentially reveal a candidate's gender, race, age, marital status, whether the candidate has any children, whether the candidate has a disability, veteran status, religion, etc.  These are all protected characteristics that employers cannot use to make hiring decisions, so just by uncovering that information, they may be putting themselves at risk for claims of discrimination or unfair hiring practices.

    Taylor: First, let me just preface this by saying this is not stereotyping millennials, but rather, just thinking about potential patterns. Yes, businesses looking for millennials have to go to where millennials are and not wait for them to come to you. You need to be on the latest social channels because once millennials see other generations on social channels they often turn to other channels.

    Q: How do you make your business “millennial friendly?”

    Taylor: Millennials like other generations want opportunities to grow. It's important to provide them with opportunities for growth and learning.

    They want to be taught new skills so they continue to grow professionally.

     If it's classes or workshops it doesn't have to happen in person for them.  Provide them with opportunities for them to try new things and be in charge of projects.

    They want to make a difference in the business and the world.  Millennials want opportunities to be socially conscious and active.

    It's important for there to be conversations about the communication norms and guidelines within the company.  For example, when is it appropriate to email, text, use social media, etc.

    Also, flexibility is helpful for millennials. That flexibility includes when, where and how they perform their jobs. Sometimes those of us who are not millennials decide that the things need to be done a specific way or our way and that's not necessarily true. As long as the task or job get done timely, effectively and efficiently then it doesn't matter if it's done our way or not.

    Sumner: There are several things a business can do to become more "millennial friendly,” such as using Twitter and other social media accounts to reach the millennial audience. The types of posts do not always have to be related to open positions. Many millennials care if their employer is environmentally conscious, involved in the community, is trying to reduce its carbon footprint, etc. Employers can use social media to show millennials that they do these things. Employers can also post jobs on social media sites; however, given the caveats above, the candidate should then be directed to an application site or process that does not permit the employer to obtain information about protected characteristics.

    Dimoff: You need to have a more in-depth understanding of what attracts, motivates and keeps millennials at your company. They are highly motivated and expect certain criteria in their work environment. If these aspects are truly understood, you can create one very powerful millennial workforce and the opposite also can happen, which is negative. Next, sit down with your current millennials at your worksite and ask them to help create a stronger and more attractive millennial work environment. This rarely takes place in many worksites who need to make these specific transitions. Lastly, there are outside consulting services now that can help you put this total millennial package together.

    Q: When it comes to the retention of millennial staff, what should small businesses keep in mind?

    Dimoff: Once again, you need to have a more in-depth understanding of what motivates and keeps millennials engaged at your company. They are highly motivated and expect certain criteria in their work environment. If these aspects are truly understood and provided you can create a millennial workforce that wants to remain and help themselves and the company both grow and prosper. Millennials feed off having “ownership and input” in each and every aspect of their workplace involvement.

    Taylor: They need to be provided with opportunities to grow and develop. Also, they should be provided with recognition and feedback. They need to understand the value that the small business sees that they bring to the table while contributing to the organization. So, they like all other employees need to be and feel included, valued and respected within the organization.

    Sumner: More than ever, millennials seem to be more concerned about work-life balance than the salary they are making. This can be advantageous to small businesses because, although they may not be in a position to pay the most (or even a competitive rate), they may be able to offer other incentives that will be attractive to millennials, such as telecommuting; flexible work schedules; volunteer opportunities; environmental initiatives; opportunities for leadership, collaboration, and advancement; and one-of-a-kind experiences (such as sky-diving, rope courses, scavenger hunts, etc. and other company-sponsored activities where employees can bound over trying something new and unique). One of the biggest things to remember is that millennials do not just want to punch a timecard and go home at the end of the day. Most want to be passionate and inspired about what they do and feel as though they are making a difference. Fuel that fire and you'll have a better chance of retaining the heat for years to come.

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  • Next up: How to Keep Everyone on the Same Page When Your Business Is Growing
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  • How to Keep Everyone on the Same Page When Your Business Is Growing

    Growing the size of your business can bring about some unintended negative consequences, including making it more difficult for your staff to act as one cohesive unit.

    Your business is growing, which means you’re busy building your team, training new people and forming more defined departments in your business. You’re keeping your company culture in mind. You’re finding the right people who bring a diverse array of experience to your business.

    But growth can be painful. It’s human nature for some personalities to conflict with other personalities. Also, communication can become more strained when you have a larger team. Each new hire brings their own experience and methods with them and folks who have been part of the team longer might feel they have leadership roles that have not actually been assigned. So, how do you bring everyone together?

    Dedicated training

    Before long, you will want to dedicate some training to the topic of communication. Getting everybody on the same page with expectations and standardizing the message to clients or the methods within the organization will result in happier clients and smoother internal operations.

    The training should cover listening skills and approaches to avoid making assumptions. Teaching the importance of actively listening to what co-workers are saying and asking for clarification in a productive manner will prevent time-killing misunderstandings.

    Everyone should be using the same methods to share information and should be instructed on the importance of including the whole team on developments. Using some form of client relationship management software or record keeping system can go a long way towards helping with that.

    Let’s not forget that privacy comes into play with your coworkers’ personal information and with clients’ protected information. Your policies related to protected information must be included in this training.

    Drew Mosley is the senior account manager at BIG-HR, which focuses on HR consulting and outsourcing. You can learn more about the company by clicking here.

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  • Next up: How to Make a Graceful Exit from Your Business
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  • How to Make a Graceful Exit from Your Business

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